22 Infinitive and Future Tense

• • • Review: Past Tense

Check in Easy Croatian: 31 Wishes and Intentions, 43 Future Tense

Now I'm going to describe the future tense in Croatian. Similar to the past tense, it's a compound tense, actually a phrase consisting of two words:

  • Present of the verb hoću in a short form;
  • The form of a verb called 'infinitive'


The infinitive (abbreviation: inf. or INF) is a form that really does not exist in English; the closest match is the infinitive phrase ("to drink"). Infinitives are neither nouns nor adjectives; they are forms of verb that have a special use. For instance, it's used in sentences like these:

Mogu piti. "I can drink.", "I am able to drink."
Znam pisati. lit. "I know to write." = "I know how to write."

The last word in each sentence is an infinitive of a verb.

Infinitives are formed from the past stem of a verb (hence also called the 'infinitive stem'), by a simple rule: discard past participle endings (-lo, -la, etc.) and add a -ti:

class1st sg. presentpast part. (m, f)infinitive
apit-a-mpit-a-o, pit-a-lapit-a-ti
imisl-i-mmisl-i-o, misl-i-lamisl-i-ti
nbri-ne-mbri-nu-o, bri-nu-labri-nu-ti
0 pi--jempi--o, pi--lapi--ti
tres--emtres--äo, tres--latres--ti
i/adrž-i-mdrž-a-o, drž-a-ladrž-a-ti
j/ov kup-uj-emkup-ova-o, kup-ova-lakup-ova-ti
j/iv oček-uj-emoček-iva-o, oček-iva-laoček-iva-ti
’j/a grij--emgrij-a-o, grij-a-lagrij-a-ti
piš--empis-a-o, pis-a-lapis-a-ti
skač--emskak-a-o, skak-a-laskak-a-ti

If you know the past part., you will know the infinitive form! I'll put the rule in a nice box:

Making infinitives

The infinitive is made by dropping -li from past part. f and adding -ti.

There are some exceptions to this rule.

We will examine the exceptions a bit later. Of course, there are verbs that do not fit to any schemes: one of them is idem, having inf. ići. But there are only few of them. Most weird verbs regularly make their infinitives from past part. f:

perem, prao "wash" → inf. prati
rastem, rastao, rasla "grow" → inf. rasti
säm, bio "be" → inf. biti
zovem, zvao "call" → inf. zvati

Verbs Used with Infinitives

There are verbs that are mainly (or only) used with infinitives, for example moram "must". While there are special, 'modal' verbs in English (e.g. "must leave"), using special syntax (without "to"), all verbs that can be used with other verbs in infinitives behave in the same way! They are:

mogu (irr.), mogäo, mogla, moći "can, be able to"
moram "must"
namjëravam "intend"
pokušavam ~ pokušam "try"
smijëm, smio, smjëla "be allowed to"
uspijëvam, uspijëvao ~ uspijëm, uspio, uspjëla (!) "succeed"

Therefore, in Croatian "I must read" is just moram čitati. There's no other option except to use an infinitive with moram; this holds for other verbs listed above as well.

There are some verbs that can be used with nouns and infinitives as objects:

idem, išäo, išla, ići "go"
hoću (irr.), htio, htjëla "want, wish"
počinjem, počinjao ~ počnem, počeo "start"    
probam "try"
trëbam "need", "should" (see below)
volim, volio, voljëla "like"
znam "know (how)"
želim, želio, željëla "want, desire"

Infinitive moći represents one type of exception from the infinitive making rule: it ends on -ći. Such exceptions are covered in 31 Weird Verbs.

The verb bojim, bojao also uses infinitive; it has also obligatory se:

Bojim se plivati. "I'm afraid to swim."

This verb uses other constructs as well.

Modals: "Have To", "Should"...

Some verbs listed above are used as modal verbs, expressing various 'modes': obligation, suggestion, ability. There's nothing special about 'modal' verbs in Croatian, they can be used in any tense and have perfectly regular endings (except for mogu), unlike modal verbs in English. This table summarizes three modal verbs:

obligation moram + INF Moraš kupiti auto.
"You have to buy a car."
suggestion trëbam + INF Trëbaš kupiti auto.
"You should buy a car."
mogu (irr.), mogäo,
mogla, moći + INF
Možeš kupiti auto.
"You can buy a car."

There's the verb smijëm, smio, smjëla that is a more formal and precise way to express that someone is permitted to do something, but in everyday communication, mogu prevails. However, it's normally used in negative sentences. Again, there's nothing special about negative 'modals', just use standard negation on the 'modal' verb:

inability Ne možeš kupiti auto.
"You cannot buy a car."
prohibition Ne smijëš kupiti auto.
"You are not allowed to buy a car."

Modals are frequently 'softened' to sound more polite using conditionals (check 36 Conditionals and Conditional Clauses).

There's nothing special about past tense 'modals' in Croatian, just use the 'modal' verb in the past tense:

Morao si kupiti auto. "You had to buy a car."
Trëbao si kupiti auto. "You should have bought a car."
Mogäo si kupiti auto. "You could have bought a car."

These expressions in Croatian use much simpler constructs than English ones.

Expressing Possible Actions on Nouns

Warning: not every English "to" + verb can be translated to a Croatian infinitive. Here's a striking example. Forms "noun-to-verb" do not correspond to Croatian infinitives, but to forms za + infinitive or to some more advanced forms of verbs:

"I have a book to read." Imam knjigu za čitati. or Imam knjigu za čitanje.

The form za + inf. is not considered Standard by some people. I will discuss it later.

Future Tense

Now, to the future tense! It's formed with short forms of verb hoću, hoćeš... "will":

pers. full form short form negative
1st sg. hoć-u (!) ć-u (!) neć-u (!)
2nd sg. hoć-eš ć-eš neć-eš
3rd sg. hoć-e ć-e neć-e
1st pl. hoć-emo ć-emo neć-emo
2nd pl. hoć-ete ć-ete neć-ete
3rd pl. hoć-e (!) ć-e (!) neć-e (!)

The verb has an irregular pattern, but similar to 0-verbs. The short forms are 'clitic', that is, they should be placed at the second place in the sentence, among all clitics, but before ones representing personal pronouns:

Sutra ću ga vidjëti. "I'll see him tomorrow."
Vidjët ću ga sutra. (the same meaning)

Yes, there's a spelling curiosity in the future tense: if an infinitive ending on -ti (that is, an infinitive according to the common rule) is immediately followed by ću, ćeš, etc. it is spelled without the final i. Even better, in the Standard Croatian the final infinitive -t is not pronounced in this situation, and both words should be pronounced as one, so one should say:

vidjët ću = /vidjëću/
imat ću = /imaću/
pisat ću = /pisaću/

Negation of future tense uses the forms from the third column, it's not a clitic and can be at any place in the sentence:

Neću ga vidjëti. "I won't see him."
Neće mi pisati pismo. "(He/she) won't write (a) letter to me."

The system is actually very similar to the past tense — but there is other auxiliary verb and a past participle instead of the infinitive:

Vidjëli smo ga. "We had seen him."
Nismo ga vidjeli. "We hadn't seen him."

Some people spell these words separately: ne ću, ne ćeš, etc.

Existential expressions in future ("there's, there isn't") use biti, similar to the past tense — imam is used for that purpose only in the present tense:

Bit će vina. "There will be some wine."
Neće biti problema. "There will be no problems."
Neće biti plina. "There will be no gas."

Long forms of verb (hoću, hoćeš,...) are used as any other verb with an infinitive or an object, and do not mean a future event:

Hoću piti. "I want to drink."
Hoću loptu. "I want (a) ball."

There's nothing special about 'modals' in Croatian, their future is simply:

Morat ćeš kupiti auto. "You will have to buy a car."
Trëbat ćeš kupiti auto. "You should buy a car."
Moći ćeš kupiti auto. "You will be able to buy a car."

Croatian does not have a "going to" future similar to English, but a phrase idem + inf. can mean something in immediate future.

Idemo jesti. "We are going to eat (right now)."

Since infinitive is the third important form of a verb, I have listed it with other forms in verb lists, when it's not trivial (that is, just -ti instead of -la in past part. f).

There are many people who don't pronounce the final -i in infinitive, and some even spell it that way all the times: imat, čitat, peć, moć, etc. That's not considered Standard, but is often seen.

There's another form of the future tense, more about it later.


JavaScript must be enabled. You don't have to use my special notation (i.e. ä, ë) in answers, normal spelling will do as well. Letter case is ignored.

Translate to Croatian:

. "I must drink."
. "I'll drink."
. "I won't drink."

Translate to Croatian, using verbs "learn" (učim), "write" (pišem, pisao) and "call" (zovem, zvao):

Pokušavam . "I'm trying to learn."
Pokušavam . "I'm trying to write."
Pokušavam . "I'm trying to call."

What is the infinitive of säm, bio ("to be" verb)? Answer:

Rewrite the sentence Nema problema "there are no problems" to the future tense:



Updated 2014-10-07 (v. 0.4)


Moumita said...

Hi Daniel, as per your rules, shouldn't the infinitive for skacem (to jump) be skacati? (I have the omitted diacritical marks because I don't use a Croatian keyboard). This is because the past base ends with "k".

Moumita said...

I meant, shouldn't "skakati" be "skaci"?

Moumita said...

Hi Daniel, I'm not sure I follow your logic! But thanks all the same for replying.

Moumita said...

What does "umijem" mean in English? I don't think you have mentioned the English equivalent anywhere...

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that in some coastal dialects, some infinitives end in "-ti" and others in just "-t". But there seems to be a pattern behind it. One cannot use them interchangeably. Is it a difference of transitive vs. intransitive? Or something similar? Clearly this is not standard, like you said, but I was just curious why some verbs have the full ending, and some don't.

Daniel N. said...

I am not aware of such feature, most dialects have dropped -i. Can you be more specific, so I can look up in literature?

Anonymous said...

I know a long time has passed since this comment was put, but..oh well. So, if the infinitive appears before "ću, će, ćemo, ćete, će" then the -i is dropped, it infinitive appears after, then -i is kept.

E said...

Just to add to the previous question, I seem to notice the final -i being dropped in the infinitive after ću/će/ćete, etc. and mogu/može, etc. but I don't know if this is normal or if I'm just not hearing the final sound.

Daniel N. said...

Colloquially, -i is always dropped. It's also frequent in blogs, forums and FB where people don't worry too much about using Standard.

E said...

Ah, thank you, Daniel. I misunderstood what you wrote earlier. Thanks again for the clarification, always appreciated.

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